First United Methodist Church - Wausau Wisconsin
Monday, August 08, 2022
Live and Share God's Love

From the Pastor

 

 

 
Rev.  Rebecca Voss

Pastor

 

 

July/August 2022

Dear First UMC Family of Faith,

This will likely be the most controversial pastoral letter I've ever had to write. Many Christians rejoice in what they see as a victory recognizing the sanctity of life. Many are elated to see what they view to be "Christian values" become the law of the land Others lament the erosion of the separation between Church and State. ' The Supreme Court's overturning of Roe is an earthquake, shaking if not shattering individual Christians and churches. I'll leave it to legal analysts to address the constitutionality of the decision. This letter will focus more on its real-world ramifications and its effect on our faith. There is much more that could and should be said than this letter permits, so consider this a starting point.

For decades, two core questions have dominated the abortion debate: (1) When does human life begin? (2) Should a woman have the right to control her own body? In order to begin discerning what "Christian values" mean in the context of abortion as individuals or as church, we will examine these two questions using Scripture tradition, reason, and experience.

1. When does human life begin? It is a widely-held misconception that the mainstream belief of life3 beginning at conception is the continuation of an ancient tradition, one which has gone unchallenged until the last few decades. In fact, it wasn't until the last few decades that a very narrow interpretation of a handful of verses' rendered this belief mainstream.5

There are two major Christian traditions of belief as to when life begins. For thousands of years, Jewish and Christian people believed life to begin at first breath, just as God breathed life into humankind (Hebrew adam).6 The Hebrew and Greek for the Holy Spirit ruach and pneuma mean "breath". which emphasizes the life of God which causes us to come to life. Another Christian tradition identifies the point at "quickening,' the point at which a woman first feels the fetus move and kick, sometime around 20 weeks gestation. In the Gospels, Elizabeth's child (John the Baptist) "leaped for joy" in her womb when Mary, also pregnant with Jesus, visited her. These are the traditional understandings of when life begins, not at conception.

2. Should a woman have the right to control her own body? Women in biblical times were property of their fathers or husbands. This was women's lived experience. The purpose of women, forced on them by patriarchal societies, was to bear and raise children. Though all of Scripture is inspired and productive to increase our faith, much of Scripture is "descriptive," not "prescriptive." Though that describes the reality of that time and culture, God is not holding that up as ideal.
 
Instead, Jesus lets people know that women are to be fully respected and trusted. It is women to whom Jesus reveals himself at his resurrection. It is women whom he entrusts with the first apostolic acts. The Holy Spirit Breath comes to inspire not just men, but women, as equals. Scripture categorically affirms: "[T]here is no longer 998 male and female, for all of you are one in Christ Jesus As we reason from Scripture, tradition, and the experience of women therein, we find that the Bible leads us to a radical shift from the societies it describes to ones in which women are equal and endowed with free will to pursue their purpose.

More recently, Rev. Dave Barnhardt of St. Junia UMC in Birmingham, Alabama challenges those who claim to be pro-life to recognize the sanctity of lives lived under oppression: "You can love the unborn and advocate for them without substantially challenging your own wealth, power, or privilege, without re-imagining social structures, apologizing, or making reparations to anyone. They are, in short, the perfect people to love if you want to claim you love Jesus but actually dislike people who breathe.~9

We are forced to deal with grievous inconsistencies in the so-called "pro-life" movement. As Sister Joan Chittister, a Catholic nun, has said, "I do not believe that just because you're opposed to abortion, that that makes you pro-life. In fact, I think in many cases, your morality is deeply lacking if all you want is a child born but a child fed, not a child educated, not a child housed. And why would I think that you don't? Because not you don't want any tax money to go there. That's not pro-life. That's pro-birth. We need a much broader conversation on what the morality of pro-life is. I'll add that pro-life supporters would be more consistent and convincing if they also passionately advocated for affordable healthcare, childcare, paid parental leave, tighter regulations of firearms, and abolishment of the death penalty.

The Supreme Court justices who disagreed with the decision to overturn Roe lament: "Today, the Court...says that from the very moment of fertilization, a woman has no rights to speak of. A State can force her to bring : pregnancy to term, even at the steepest personal and familial costs.... [States] have passed laws without any those laws, a woman will have to bear her rapist's child or a young girl her exceptions for... rape or incest. Under father's no matter if doing so will destroy her life. So too, after today's ruling, some States may compel women to carry to term a fetus with severe physical anomalies sure to die within a few years of birth. States may even argue that a prohibition on abortion need make no provision for protecting a woman from risk of death or physical harm. "10 The dissent recognizes the gruesome reality for women in a post-Roe nation.

To the question "Should a woman have the right to control her own body?", God answers us, through Christ, with a resounding "Yes." People who have fought and claimed a victory with the recent overturning of Roe vs. Wade may be well-intentioned, but the resulting harm to women forced to carry pregnancies that are not viable or safe for any number of reasons is a denial of their autonomy and life. The essential question of a woman's right to her own body was discarded by the Supreme Court with a careless "no!". Our culture has long assumed women are supposed to be nurturing caretakers who must give of themselves and their bodies. Yes, God calls us all (including men) to be generous with our lives. But Christ also demonstrated countless examples of setting and keeping strong, healthy boundaries. I believe those boundaries include the separation of church and state and trusting women and their doctors to make difficult decisions during either unwanted or unviable pregnancies. As the people of First UMC of Wausau, let's focus on loving Jesus and all people who breath. Let's affirm and support women with equality and their ability to make difficult decisions. If you or someone you know ever needs to talk to someone about this, I'm available to listen and offer spiritual support.

Grace and Peace,
Pastor Rebecca
 
 
1Addressing counsel for Dobbs during oral argument, Justice Sotomayor asked: "How is your interest anything but a religious view?. It's still debated in religions. So, when you say [abortion] is the only right that takes away from the state the ability to protect a life, that's a religious view, isn't it Oral Argument at 26:35,
 
2Dobbs v. Jackson's Women's Health, 597 US (2022) (No. 13-1392), https://www.oyez.org/cases/2021/19-1392. Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Org., 597 U.S. (2022),

3An ongoing dialogue could ask "What does *life' mean?" Biological life? Imbued with some form of meaning? If so, what forms? There are also various Judeo-Christian beliefs regarding points of "ensoulment." would be happy to lend the book Pro-Choice and Christian: Reconciling Faith, Politics, and Justice by Rev. Kira Schlesinger.

4See, for example, Jeremiah 1:5 and Psalm 139:13-15

5In recent history, even evangelical Christians some of the most fervent opponents of the right to abortion have understood the necessity of the separation of church and state and the ability of a woman to choose. David Roach, How Baptists became Pro-Life, BAPTIST PRESS (Jan. 16, 2015), https://www.baptistpress.com/resource-library/news/how-southern-baptists-became-pro-life/.

6
Genesis 2:7 (NRSVUE). 7Luke 1:44 (NRSVUE).

8Galatians 3:28 (NRSVUE).

9 Dave Barnhardt, FACEBOOK (June 25, 2018), https://www.facebook.com/dave.barnhart/posts/10156549406811031.

10 Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Org., 597 U.S. (2022), (Breyer, Kagan, Sotomayor, JJ., dissenting).